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New web site provides tool for community advocates

“The Oregon Rural Communities Explorer provides public, online access to social, demographic, economic, and environmental information about Oregon’s rural counties and places,” explain Lena Etuk, social demographer with Extension Family and Community Health and one of the developers of the site. “It’s a public, unbiased information system and teaching tool for rural leaders, engaged residents, program practitioners, and foundations.”

Specifically, the Oregon Rural Communities Explorer provides access to information about:

• The environment, economy, and demography of rural communities, including statistics for urban communities in Oregon

• Rural community vitality

Lena Etuk

Lena Etuk, Social Demographer

• The causes, consequences, and significance of rural issues

• How communities work and change

• Where additional rural resources are and how to use them

In order to fulfill this mission, The Oregon Rural Communities Explorer team regularly collects, maintains, analyzes, and presents:

• Community data

• Rural research

• Community stories and local reports contributed by Oregon residents

• Historical documents and community visions contributed by Oregon residents

• Additional resources and portals

According to Lena, in the seven months following the October 2008 launch of the site, there were over 85,000 page views on the Rural Communities Explorer. The vast majority of users turned to the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool when they visited the RCE. With this tool, users can create statistical profiles for any number of the 723 named (unincorporated and incorporated) places and 36 counties in Oregon they choose, with data from over 30 different sources. One of the most unique aspects of the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool, compared to other data websites, is that profiles can be created for user-defined combinations of communities. For many rural community practitioners this is an important feature because they often serve broad parts of a county or region of the state. For example, imagine writing a grant to build the workforce skills of rural community members in Benton County. To write the grant you have to prove that these rural community members have need for further education. Before the RCE, the most easily accessible source of this information would have been county-level educational attainment data. The problem with those data is that Corvallis is part of Benton County, is not rural, and houses a large university. Clearly, Corvallis has a major impact on the educational attainment statistics of Benton County. Therefore, in order to demonstrate need in rural Benton County one must be able to subtract out Corvallis and maybe some close lying suburban areas to get a true understanding of the educational attainment of rural Benton County residents. With the Oregon Communities Reporter Tool, it is possible to generate an aggregate report of the educational attainment of the truly rural residents of the county, omitting Corvallis.

“County commissioners, economic developers, non-profit managers, state agency analysts, and others engaged rural Oregonians have told us they have used the site in many ways,” says Lena. “They can gain access to a plethora of information to guide development, programming, and grant-making decisions, and they can get a quick overview of a place before starting on a project in the community. I am excited to hear these people using the site in this way; this is exactly what we were intending.”

Stories beyond statistics

Visitors to RCE want to learn about rural communities and they can do so through statistics and research, but the stories behind the statistics are an important part of each community. The site features an archive of short stories written by rural Oregonians about life in their communities.